Thursday, November 18, 2004

False Consciousness is the New False Consciousness

Here I go on another rant against "Modern Marxism".

Karl Marx believed that the belief held by oppressed classes that they were not oppressed amounted to "false consciousness". He cited religion as a tool of imposing false consciousness, and he believed that the repeal of false consciousness was necessary in order to instigate the class revolution that he believed were both necessary and inevitable.

Many analysts point to George Dubya Bush’s recent presidential victory in the United States as being a result of false consciousness. In the case of the United States, according to these analysts, it is not only religion that is helping to impose this false consciousness, but it is also the ideal of American patriotism. That is so long as it is to be expected that an American patriot will trust the president and not question him, it is required that Americans largely turn a blind eye toward the effect that his policies have had not only on the international scene, but on the internal American scene, as well.

False consciousness, in this context, is the tool of an uber-imperialist nation, which is so enslaved to globalized corporate economics that it is forced to facilitate the expansion of this "invisible empire" – the American corporate empire.

And while there is certainly something going on the world (especially as it pertains to the American invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq) that very much resembles imperialism and may in fact be so, once again, the practicality of outdated ideologies to the analysis of this phenomenon should be called into question.

In this case, that of false consciousness.

It is very difficult these days to pretend that one is not oppressed, or even that others are not oppressed. From very early ages now, we are taught that we are oppressed by one force or another. Through the educational standpoints on racism and sexism, which we encounter increasingly early in life, we learn that almost no matter who we are, we are all oppressed in one form or another. Racial minorities are taught that they are victims of racism. Women are taught that they are victims of sexism. Members of the "dominant group" are often even taught that they are besieged by the minorities, thus introducing at least the threat of oppression. As we proceed through high school and post-secondary institutions (should be so fortunate) we are taught that oppression of various factors is institutionalized. We are taught that racism and sexism are hidden values of our society, although we are also taught that mainstream society has begun to favor the plight of the oppressed at the expense of their would-be oppressors.

False consciousness is the new false consciousness. At least, that is to say, the belief in false consciousness has become the new false consciousness.

It should come as no small surprise that as believing oneself to be oppressed becomes the norm, efforts directed at showing oneself to be oppressed increase exponentially. Take, for example, the idea of political correctness. How many times have the terms used to address such categories of the population as African Americans changed?

Of course the term "Nigger" (and as a victim of my own sensibilities, I loathe using this word) is no longer acceptable. When this came to be, the term "Negro" was created to replace it. A forgotten number of permutations later, "African American" has become the current P.C. term. It is likewise with the "Differently Abled". "Retard’ was replaced by the arguably more sensitive "Handicapped", which was in turn replaced with "Disabled", "Challenged", and an also-forgotten number of flagstones along the way. Language itself is being bent to the ideal of false consciousness, which, perhaps in the examples I have provided, is not such a bad thing after all.

However, the ideal of false consciousness and political correctness have begun to hold our society hostage. Affirmative action programs, for example, provide for greater opportunities to those who are "oppressed" but (as much as the proponents of such programs may refuse to admit this) provide little in terms of actual equity and actual equality. In a sense, these attempts at curtailing oppression can also be perceived as a form of oppression, and actual subversions to the idea of meritocracy.

There is an implicit idea inherent in affirmative action policies that suggest should an African American, woman, or differently abled individual apply for a position that they fail to attain, it is at least partially because that individual is an African American, a woman, or differently abled – whichever the case may be. This is taken as a symptom of oppression, no matter what the qualifications of the individual may be. It may also be unavoidable to realize that, under affirmative action programs, the individual who attains the position they have applied for may have attained it partially because that individual is an African American, woman, or differently abled – again, whichever the case may be. It is entirely plausible that in this case the tables of oppression have merely been turned. Or, perhaps not.

Of course, such a thinly veiled assault on affirmative action policies and the ideals associated with them ignores the fact that oppression does indeed exist in our society. It would be incredibly naïve to believe so, and I am not personally prepared to even flirt with such naiveté.

What I am merely suggesting is that the belief in false consciousness, and along with it institutionalized belief in universal oppression, leads our society to search for oppression where no such oppression may actually exist. It is also entirely plausible that in the course of witch hunts for such oppression, new oppressions (perhaps even actual oppressions) shall be created. As far as the goal of eliminating oppression within our society, this is certainly counter-productive.

One may argue that efforts to eliminate racism and sexism through the education system have failed. One may point to the continued existence of such hateful organizations as the kkk (I refuse to afford this organization the dignity of capital letters), and the fact that women continue to earn less money than men as evidence of this.

But in order to do this, one must ignore the fact that racism was still institutionalized in the United States as recently as the 1960s and sexism institutionalized as recently as the 1930s. Anyone who believed that these two forces would be eradicated in less than one hundred years’ time is terribly foolish, delightfully idealistic, but terribly naïve.

Yet the institutionalized belief in oppression is equally as damaging as institutionalized oppression.

Instead of trying to find oppression where it doesn’t actually exist, it is imperative to start focusing on eliminating oppression where it does exist. This, on the other hand, is an entire different challenge.

Feel up to it?

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